Palm Sunday


On the first Sunday of Lent the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. In a full frontal assault, Satan goaded Jesus to prove he is the son of God, by “turning stones to bread” to end the pangs of his hunger. To prove his sonship Satan demanded that Jesus dramatically fling himself from the temple parapet so that God’s angels could catch him - to the astonishment of the crowds. Finally, Satan tried to entice him with a promise of worldly power.

Jesus resisted these temptations and began an assault on Satan’s realm. The good news of God’s love and mercy was preached and his kingdom made manifest in the blind who received sight, in leprous bodies healed, and through demons expelled from the possessed. And now we enter Holy Week with Jesus to witness the final victory of God’s love and mercy in the mystery of the crucified Messiah. But not before the temptations that began Lent are revisited.

First, the citizens of the Holy City hail the Son of David, spreading their cloaks on the ground for the prophet from Nazareth who enters Zion like a king. He is not just shown kingdoms, this one embraces him, begs him to ascend to his hereditary throne. How enticing are honors, glory, and power. We succumb to the lure of accolades, awards, affirmation, attention. We want success, and we want people to notice our success.

But Jesus does not cling to these cries of hosanna and the enticement of worldly power. Immediately he goes to the temple and disrupts the business of the day. And, as in the temptations in the desert, he quotes scripture: “My house shall be a house of prayer”.

After his capture and show trial, he who is innocent is found guilty by the guilty. Satan again tempts him to do something spectacular to prove he is the Son of God. “Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?” Later, Satan tempts him to simply defend himself against lying accusers. Even the ruthless Pilate is greatly amazed, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” How enticing it is to defend ourselves, our ideas, our reputation. And we succumb to the desire to be spectacular – the great preacher, the popular speaker, the noted scholar, the beloved pastor – all for the greater glory of … us.

The final temptation is a revisiting of the first temptation in the desert. The agony of the cross, immeasurably more intense than hunger, must have intensified the temptation to seek relief. Like Satan, the crowd taunts, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” It fails, so Satan sweetens the deal with a saccharine promise. “Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.”

But Jesus Our Lord remains transfixed by nails to the cross. The women who followed him look on at a distance, the men who followed him are nowhere to be found. Jesus did not grasp at power, or success, or comfort. He emptied himself of all things – even the intimacy he had with the Father – “why have you forsaken me?” He emptied himself of everything but the desire to do the Father’s will. And His Father’s will was – and is – that all the world might see His unconditional love for us. That we might believe in his mercy, and the lengths He has gone to reconcile us to Himself.

Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, the tempter has taunted Jesus, “If you are the Son of God.” Jesus’s final cry is one of triumph even in his agony. Satan’s pride is defeated by the Son’s humility. The unbelieving crowd crying, “If you are the Son of God” is replaced by a Gentile centurion and his men keeping watch over Jesus, who say in awe. “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Hosanna to the Son of David, the Son of Mary, the Son of Man; Hosanna to our crucified and victorious Redeemer, the Son of God.

--by Fr. Michael Fones, O.P.

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